Thursday, May 1, 2014

GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974): 30 Days of Godzilla

DAY 15


aka. Godzilla vs. Bionic Monster
aka. Godzilla vs. Cosmic Monster

Evil apes from outer space attempt to conquer Earth with a robotic Godzilla in accordance with an ancient apocalyptic prophecy. But could the terrifying Godzilla cyborg be too powerful for even the real King of the Monsters to defeat? Godzilla kicks off his 20th Anniversary with the surprisingly entertaining Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.

By the 20th Anniversary of Gojira, the Godzilla franchise needed a serious shot in the arm. After the bar-lowering Godzilla vs Megalon the year prior, the series was withering with low budgets, poor production values, and a reliance on stock footage. Thankfully, for Godzilla's 20th birthday, Toho decided to bring Godzilla back to some of his former glory. Even though Jun Fukuda (director of many of the lesser 1960s and 1970s Godzilla movies) was brought back to direct, this time he was able to deliver a monster mash up that hearkened back to the better days of Invasion of Astro-Monster and Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster.

Godzilla Goes Metal
Fear begins to spread as apocalyptic omens appear in Okinawa. First, a priestess of the ancient Azumi family has a terrifying vision of a giant monster destroying a city. Then a spelunker (Kazuya Aoyama) discovers a strange alien metal that leads him, his brother (Masaaki Daimon), a professor (Akihiko Hirata), and an archaeologist (Reiko Tajima) to a secret chamber marked by an ominous prophecy:
When a black mountain appears above the clouds, a huge monster will arise and try to destroy the world; but then, when the red moon sets and the sun rises in the west, two more shall appear to save humanity.
In the cave they also discover the statue of a monster believed to represent King Caesar, a mythical protector God of Okinawa legend that looks like the cross between a lion and a dog. Clearly he is meant to be one of the monsters that shall save humanity, but who is coming to destroy it?

Et tu, Godzilla?
Okinawa apparently gets its answer when Godzilla emerges from a volcano and beings to destroy everything in his path, even beating his friend Anguirus into a bloody pulp when he tries to intervene. Poor Anguirus. This will the the spiky monster's final film appearance for 30 years, and he goes out bleeding like a stuck pig. Something is clearly not right here! By the 1970s, Godzilla had become a hero of the silver screen. He'd put his city-destroying days behind him and had established clear friend/foe boundaries. This Godzilla's clearly off his nut. Things take an even stranger turn when a second identical Godzilla arrives to challenge the marauding monster.

The inhumanity of monster on monster violence.
As it turns out, the destructive Godzilla is actually an alien cyborg created by a race of sentient simians from Black Hole Planet 3 (obviously inspired by the success of Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes). These chilling space chimps plan to use their mechanical monstrosity to take over the Earth, and they've packed it full of fire power. Equipped with missile fingers and toes, a rainbow-coloured eye beam, and a force field, Mechagodzilla proves to be more metal than Godzilla can handle. In a pyrotechnic industrial battle, Mechagodzilla makes Godzilla gush blood and sends him crashing unconscious back into the ocean, presumed dead. Meanwhile, the evil apes of Black Hole Planet 3 attempt to steal the King Caesar statue from our heroes to prevent them from enacting the resurrection of King Caesar foretold in the ancient prophecy. There's a lot of espionage action that follows, including involvement from Interpol, before King Caesar is summoned from his sleep and Godzilla returns -- rejuvenated by lightning and with new magnetic powers -- to face the challenge of Mechagodzilla once and for all (or at least until the sequel).

It slices, it dices, it makes JULIENNED FRIES!
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla has all the silliness and 70s camp of the previous goofball Godzilla installments, but for the first time in four years, the movie has some great pyrotechnic special effects, great looking monsters, a new plot (if you exclude the overplayed alien invasion trope), and some really brutal and exciting monster fights. The climactic showdown between Mechagodzilla, Godzilla, and King Caesar is particularly noteworthy for its practical and optical light effects. A Godzilla fight hasn't been this exciting since Destroy All Monsters in 1968. Toho did Godzilla a great service for his 20th Anniversary by demonstrating there was still some atomic breath left yet in this two decades-old sci-fi series.


Given the dwindling box office returns for the Godzilla franchise in Japan, we were lucky to get as good a film as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla turned out to be. However, as much as it demonstrated a return to better quality movie-making, the Godzilla series was officially out of gas. The following year, Toho would release the final Godzilla film of the Showa period before putting Godzilla on a 9-year hiatus. Join us tomorrow for 30 Days of Godzilla and we'll look at the King of the Monster's big rematch against his mechanical mirror-image in 1974's TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA.

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